Variant Coverage – September 19, 2018

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

So, funny thing about this week’s reviewed comics: none of them are funny. I think that’s mostly by design, but if it wasn’t then that’s tragic. You’ll see what I mean.

X-Men Gold 36 (Guggenheim/ Perez): Setting up a graveyard on school grounds was a weird choice to begin with, but since Xavier insisted everyone get a grave marker every time they die, 500 acres filled up fast at the X-Mansion. This scene here is Kitty going to get the mail. Everyone day someone asks her if she’s decorating for Halloween early. She used to make excuses, then she made it into a gag where she screamed as if the ground was eating her. She stopped once there were too many coffins to maintain composure through on the way back.

Burnouts 1 (Culver/ Geoffo): Is this a statement against marijuana use or advocating it? If aliens are among us of course I want to know about it. But if the only way I can see it is to render my senses legally unreliable, am I even seeing them? Do I blow into a web cam and hope setting my processor’s speed 420 works the same way. [7/10]

Drugs are bad because they say so in school, and they also say cheaters never prosper, and that words can never hurt you, so if you take that with a grain of salt you’ll have a grain of salt. Andy’s diligently avoided weed, alcohol, and other dangerous social lubricants his entire life, and he’s just realized he has no social experience at all. On the one hand, there’s a bunch of violent tweakers that sure make addictions look bad, but there’s just something Andy knows he’s missing. His first party leads right to his first puff, and too bad for him it opens his eyes to the non-visual frequency that etheric aliens are working in to take over the planet.

All signs to the contrary, this is not an afterschool special. Andy’s choices and experimentation do not lead to disaster… well okay, they do, but none are caused by his choices. Sobriety leads to ignorance. The floor is the ceiling, black is red, everything is crazy, and while that can be a good thing, the story doesn’t quite come together. Certain aspects are demonstrated and broken down exhaustively while others could fit with more explanation. There are fun moments, but they don’t assemble into a cohesive timeline. That’s my judgment, but perhaps a more (shall we say?) influenced perspective would be different.

The visuals aim for rounded cartoonish quality a la Darwyn Cooke, but do not match that level of refinement. Line and ink work comes to a rest before cleaning up, giving everything a slightly sloppy appearance. None of that interferes with the information coming across – the reader always knows who’s interacting with who/ what in a scene, even if they’re legally intoxicated. The color works hard to sell this last point by adjusting eye and skin color just enough to indicate what mental faction everyone’s aligned with.

Burnouts reads like a mystery lollipop – it’s the reader’s guess, and while they might go in wanting to know what it is right away, they may have to settle for knowing what it isn’t.

Caspers Capers 1 (Various): First, there’s no way this ends well. Either an angel food cake produced by the Heavenly Host will descend and start the Great Cosmic Bake-Off (I’d watch it), or Casper will remember that food can’t feed him any more than his nostalgia, that his persistence in the mortal world only hurts him, and that his friendliness comes from a deep guilt telling him he deserves nothing better. Or the happy ending: he correctly identifies the cake that really was so good that it killed him.

Dick Tracy 1 (Allred & Allred/ Tommaso): “My radio watch-! It’s trying to kill me! All these down votes from the crooks I’ve put away all these years, the relentless amount of data devoid of context or truth, the fact that it’s five pounds and after so many years my skeleton’s irreparably crooked! In hindsight… I always knew this would be how it ended.”

Impossible Incorporated 1 (DeMatteis/ Cavallaro): Is this what happens after the Magic School Bus? The kids graduate, enter the workforce, and commute via an enchanted subway train? Because if that’s the case my suspension of disbelief just shattered. I mean come on: a school program that actually prepares students for an aspect of life outside school? Wouldn’t buy it for a nickel!

Olivia Twist 1 (Strauss & Dalva/ Vieceli): Based on the coldly confident expression on her face and the apparent ease with which she climbed onto and relaxes a crazy number of stories off the street, I have a real problem picturing a scenario where she says, “Please sir, may I have some more?” Wait, I take that back – she says that, followed by “of your blood on my knuckles?” [6/10]

It’s a cyber-punk Oliver Twist. Things that would’ve saved me some time if there was any sort of primer or setting establishment:
1) The version of London this is set in is like V for Vendetta, only less culturally tolerant.
2) The UK sent the USA back to a pre-Industrial age with EMP bombardment, because they suspected than an AI Singularity was about to take place.
3) Workers’ rights are adorable fairy tales.
4) Fashion is fashionable again.

Much like the iron fist running things in this story, the themes in here are heavy-handed. The extreme portrayals of oligarchal oppression fall a bit flat when the world is trying to figure out to what to do with actual oligarchs. The “bold” statements about how much it sucks to be an orphan, how hard life is out on the street, and the pain felt knowing your protectors aren’t protecting you hit just a bit too topically to resonate. None of the characters develop on their own because they’re too busy hitting the beats of the source material. This prevents any of the motivations or allegiances from appearing genuine, and from there the whole experience kind of falls apart.

The artwork does what it can to smooth over the narrative’s unyielding edge, but it only does so much. The illustrations feature realistic proportions and scaling, and also violates that standard ridiculously depending on how much wealth a person has. Money can let a factory owner wear metal whiskers as an accessory, or live in buildings that should fall down after a strong breeze, or enable every single person regardless of gender, race, or class a stylish vest.

Olivia Twist reads like an adult’s shelf filled with childhood trophies – yes, it’s nice to remember past glories, but polishing them recently does not count as an accomplishment.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1 (Ahmed/ Brown): So Peter Parker doesn’t want to bond with the alien symbiote, huh? Well that’s no problem, there’s all kinds of things the symbiote can bond with. Like this chair! These bed sheets – a little bonding would be a welcome change of pace for them. And you know what, this wall with paint that’s got enough lead in it to stop a nuke? The Klyntar would rather bond with that anyway – at least lead’s steady about something!

Junior High Horrors 1 (Potchak/ Retiano & Parker): Is anyone seeing the most bland comic cover of all time? I assume everyone’s junior high experience was something close to mine: a bleak existence where nothing around you mattered and your peers were brain-sucking humanoids, mountains of unfeeling muscle, knife-happy psychopaths, or people so disconnected none of it seemed out of place. This just looks so aggressively bland and normal to me that it makes no sense. It can’t be just me.

Batman Damned 1 of 3 (Azzarello/ Bermejo): Everyone loves the argument that Batman could beat any given threat so long as he was given prep time. That’s not what he’s about, though – he’s about having enough tools on him that he can do anything and look like he’d planned for it afterward. Anyone can put on armor that could survive a grenade to the face if they have a week of notice. Most of us don’t because there’s just so little chance of that becoming relevant. Batman works with maniacs addicted to explosions, so of course he’ll have a closet full. You never hear about the special tri-weave codpiece he wears to guard against airborne piranhas trained to attack crotches, but he’s worn them for three years solid because one day they might prove important.

Patience! Conviction! Revenge! 1 (Kindlon/ Ferrari): You know how there are ways of playing Rock-Paper-Scissors with fifteen different possible results? Now imagine applying that sadomasochistic enthusiasm to cowboys and indians. [7/10]

In the somewhat distant future, there was a polymath named Renny. He developed advanced machine intelligence and robotics, and had just enough business savvy to reap his own benefits. The bad news is that Renny grew up with gangster rules, without thinking about it he played that way, and he got pushed out of his office and exiled from civilization by like-minded folks. When I say exiled, I mean “most of the world is scorching wasteland actively trying to kill you” exiled, but it’s not hopeless. When the world’s greatest tinkerer lands in a global-sized scrapyard, it’s just a matter of time before he goes wherever he wants.

Behold another installment of “business-minded urban development’s a horrible idea”. In this episode, we see a corporate mechanism utterly incapable of appreciating talent versus a nihilistic Tony Stark. At times it’s entertaining to watch someone equal parts insane and eccentric run off with his horde of abominable creations to bring civilization down, but whenever the attention focuses on the man on the mission, he shows off how he’s pretty much a jerk and shouldn’t have anything nice. Most of the book showcases horrible people suffering in abstract ways, so there’s little to feel bad about, there’s just little motivation to feel good, and without some amount of both there’s little drama.

Visually, the art can’t decide if it wants to be realistic – its people and expressions stay close to form – or cartoonish – the robots and pretty much all the trappings are pulled from various franchises. It reminds me of Chris Bachalo’s artwork, except Bachalo can find energy in between the two extremes, where Ferrari loses energy trying to navigate through the process. Most of the time it works sufficiently, but when the payoff scenes come around they lack the impact all the build-up promises.

Patience! Conviction! Revenge! reads like a yard-sale quilt – it’s made from a bunch of segments, and the best moments are probably past it by now.

That’ll do it for me. See you next week!

Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival?  They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues

Variant Coverage Review Blog by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival

Variant Coverage Review Blog by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival


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